A short history of the London Workers Group, 1977-1985

A short history of the London Workers Group, which existed from 1977 to 1985, written by Dave Morris, a former member, in 2006.

The London Workers Group was founded in 1977. It was founded by a Guardian typist active in the NATSOPA Union chapel, a train driver from ASLEF, and an Islington postal worker. The three had met at a Libertarian Industrial Network conference in London - the LIN was a very loose national network of about 35 individuals active in various industries, but not organised geographically.

A much needed organisation

The LWG was a new kind of solidarity organisation - a very active libertarian workers collective, open to all workers (employed or unwaged) in London, engaged in providing solidarity to individuals in their own workplaces, supporting various disputes and discussing a wide range of issues. The politics was radical, libertarian and anti-capitalist, embracing a range of alternatives including workers councils, anarcho-syndicalism and anarchist communism. Meetings were open to all 'workers' in the widest sense, and non-sectarian. The group was pro-worker and supportive of any workplace disputes, but critical of wage-labour and trades unions. The meetings were very lively, positive and generally focused on real life - rather than abstract ideology - and practical action. At the high point, weekly meetings were averaging 20 people attending (mostly employed workers). The group also produced widely-distributed and substantial down-to-earth news/discussion bulletins, distributed for free - over a period of 7 or 8 years.

The LWG initially met every fortnight in 'Rising Free' (an anarchist bookshop in Islington), and then weekly in various pubs chosen to be near traditional employment hubs (The Earl Russell behind Kings X Station, and then The Metropolitan in Farringdon). There were regular publicised discussion meetings averaging monthly on all kinds of issues. For example, in one 6 month period in 1980 alone there were 4 public meetings on 'Industrial Trainees', 'The Steel Industry', 'Demonstrations', and 'Creating Autonomous Workers Groups'.

Spreading ideas

The flyers for these meetings were often humorous, thoughtful and/or an incitement to action and served as a way of spreading the group's ideas to potential supporters. Real influence in specific industries was limited accept in a few cases such as support for a long strike of Garners Steakhouses workers (a couple of whom were associated with the LWG) and their efforts to set up an Catering Rank & File group, in the print industry (as a number of the group were printworkers), and in the later years a postal workers group. There was much leafleting of trade union events and wider demonstrations, and sometimes organised heckling, calling for workers not to follow leaders but instead to take over their workplaces and make social revolution.

The LWG bulletins ran to 14 editions, mostly produced on a gestetner duplicator in Islington and Haringey - sometimes running to 500 copies. There were articles about the print industry and its union issues (especially about chapel-level organisation and about the looming impact of new technology); similar detailed pieces about post office and rail issues; about the theory and practice of workers councils, syndicalism and trades unionism; the nature of 'work'; news from a range of disputes that LWG activists were involved in or knew about; about the unemployed/unwaged groups movement etc.

Links with other organisations

The LWG tried to forge links with the few other similar groups around the UK. At the end of the 1970s, at the LWG's initiative, a couple of conferences were held with the long-established Syndicalist Workers Federation (mostly based in the north of England) and others, which led to some sharing of information and joint campaigns and ultimately the creation of a loose, federal 'Direct Action Movement'. However, the second conference decided this should become formalised as a new anarcho-syndicalist individual membership organisation rather than an alliance of independent, libertarian local workers' groups. This effectively excluded the LWG, which was an open collective rather than a membership group, and which was supportive of a range of ideas including workers councils rather than just anarcho-syndicalism. The DAM eventually became today's Solidarity Federation or 'SolFed'.

There were later contacts with 'Left Communist' groups (such as the 'International Communist Current'), but they were usually small, ideological sects only interested in endless polemical 'debates' rather than real workers solidarity. In the end the LWG had to ban such groups from their meetings as they were using them as recruiting grounds.

Towards the end the group became more ideological in content, and started also producing a glossy analytical magazine 'Workers Playtime' (produced cheap or free by printers active in the group) and a range of polemical leaflets for demonstrations and events.


The end, and the future
..

The LWG gradually faded away during the mid-80s, some of the active members continuing to produce Workers Playtime, with special editions on the miners strike and then on the printing industry. Some went on to help form the national anarchist organisation Class War.

During 1986-7, former LWG activists from within and without the print industry were actively involved in support for the Wapping pickets. This included practical support for the independent printworkers 'Picket' news bulletin, written by and for the printworkers in dispute. 5,000 copies were distributed weekly to strikers throughout the year-long dispute - it was enthusiastically backed by all those involved in the dispute but hated by Union Officials and the Communist Party as it was outside their control. This strikers' bulletin was everything that the LWG had been arguing for for years and could have helped inspire other similar initiatives in other disputes. However, ironically, the LWG had already folded.

Despite the inspirational miners and printers battles, their defeats led to gradual demoralisation and ebb in workplace resistance. But the need for such resistance is stronger than ever.

Written by Dave Morris in 2006 and originally published on the website of the Radical History Network of North East London.

Comments

Wellclose Square
Oct 19 2011 21:18

Good to see this.

Dannny
Oct 19 2011 21:27

Thanks for that, interesting stuff

Spikymike
Oct 20 2011 15:55

Good to see this.

I still have several copies of both the LWG bulletin and Workers Playtime both of which, in my opinion, contained some of the most interesting and relevant discussions of workers struggles and politics in the period 1980-84.

Wellclose Square
Oct 20 2011 16:10

Out of all the papers of that time - agitational, theoretical and what have you - I liked Workers' Playtime best (followed by Here and Now).

lurdan
Oct 20 2011 17:58

Never seen this before - thanks.

Kept thinking "yes, but" throughout, and as I read the line "Towards the end the group became more ideological in content" I could clearly hear Dave 's disapproving tone of voice again smile Oddly I don't think this in any way does justice to Dave's own contribution.

Be nice to get some of the LWG stuff up I guess.

(One minor correction - I know it's often stated otherwise but the Manchester SWF bore the same relation to the original SWF as the post-war War Commentary group did to the original Freedom).

Samotnaf
Oct 20 2011 20:12

lurdan:

Quote:
Be nice to get some of the LWG stuff up I guess

Put this up, from '85 I think, a couple of months ago: http://libcom.org/library/welfare-state-isn%E2%80%99t-now-never-was-%E2%80%9Cgenuine-gain-working-class%E2%80%9D

Steven.
Oct 22 2011 04:53
Spikymike wrote:
Good to see this.

I still have several copies of both the LWG bulletin and Workers Playtime both of which, in my opinion, contained some of the most interesting and relevant discussions of workers struggles and politics in the period 1980-84.

yeah, it would be good to put this online at some point. We are buying a proper scanner soon, so should be able to do more of this. If I forget about this, would you be able to drop me a reminder in a couple of months or so? (Your final Subversion issue has not been forgotten either!)

Thanks for posting this history, I had often heard of LWG so it is good to see a more detailed account.

Scumboni
Apr 28 2012 13:32

Dave's account is good and fair. Suprised though that he doesn't cover the way his own Stop the City initiative - in retrospect, a forerunner of much contemporary 'interventionist' and flashmob style street activism - divided the group; some of us thought it was a bit of stunt and not serious, not political enough. I was a member of the Workers Playtime collective and the printer of the magazine, also I was one of the LWG-ers in the Picket publishing collective around the Wapping lockout, along with a Times subeditor (Labour) and the late Arne Mintz, a printer in the general trade like me, and an experienced Spartacist who wanted to create a new Leninist workers' party out of the Wapping struggle. You can imagine the political discussions. It was a mad year (at one point we were doing 10,000 4-page newsletters twice a week, and publishing football results in the Saturday edition). I have complete sets of Picket, also of Workers Playtime, if anyone's interested.

Steven.
Apr 28 2012 13:53
Scumboni wrote:
Dave's account is good and fair. Suprised though that he doesn't cover the way his own Stop the City initiative - in retrospect, a forerunner of much contemporary 'interventionist' and flashmob style street activism - divided the group; some of us thought it was a bit of stunt and not serious, not political enough. I was a member of the Workers Playtime collective and the printer of the magazine, also I was one of the LWG-ers in the Picket publishing collective around the Wapping lockout, along with a Times subeditor (Labour) and the late Arne Mintz, a printer in the general trade like me, and an experienced Spartacist who wanted to create a new Leninist workers' party out of the Wapping struggle. You can imagine the political discussions. It was a mad year (at one point we were doing 10,000 4-page newsletters twice a week, and publishing football results in the Saturday edition). I have complete sets of Picket, also of Workers Playtime, if anyone's interested.

Hi, that's a very interesting.

We actually have a complete archive of picket on this website:
http://libcom.org/history/picket-bulletin-wapping-printers-strike-1986-1987

We have a bunch of stuff from workers playtime, but it is woefully incomplete:
http://libcom.org/tags/workers-playtime

If ever you felt like writing up some of your experiences from the time or in those groups we would love to have it here. We would like to put all of the workers playtime stuff up on here at some point, so it's good to know someone who has an archive

Battlescarred
Apr 28 2012 14:41

The Stop the City initiative wasn't just Dave's idea, Other people were jointly involved (including one member of the AF in London, not myself I hasten to add) but it certainly was not a Class War initiative at all as sometimes falsely claimed.